Diane Abbott has rejected claims that she showed any disrespect by being on her phone during an awards ceremony for a leading Hillsborough campaigner.
The Shadow Home Secretary dismayed some onlookers at the Women of the Year Awards when she used her smartphone during the screening of a film paying tribute to Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son in the disaster.
Attendees at the event at the said that Abbott was on her phone “the whole way through” the film.
She was also on her phone during a speech by Theresa May, in which she praised Aspinall and other families for their tireless campaign for justice for the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the crush at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
“The film was so moving it made everyone cry,” one person present said.
Guests said that the Shadow Home Secretary appeared distracted during the event at the Intercontinental Hotel in London on Monday lunchtime. “Several people were horrified [by her conduct],” a source added.
But Abbott’s office told HuffPost UK that she was dealing with the breaking news that fellow Labour MP Lisa Nandy’s Urgent Commons Question on the child sex abuse inquiry chaos had just been granted by Speaker Bercow.
“She talked briefly on her phone after receiving a call, but then because she didn’t want to disrupt the event, she used email to correspond with her office about the Urgent Question,” her spokeswoman said.
“She decided not to leave the table but instead use her phone. It was not to text, browse, or show disrespect.”
Her office added that Abbott felt it would have been disrespectful to leave the ceremony and that the bulk of her time on the phone was spent on emails rather than talking directly.
Straight after the event, she returned to her Commons office to prepare for the Parliamentary question session.
Abbott represented Labour on the frontbench for the Urgent Commons question a few hours later, where she pressed Home Secretary Amber Rudd on the chaotic state of the child sex abuse inquiry and the departure of former chair Dame Lowell Goddard.
Abbott’s allies point out that she has consistently backed the Hillsborough families’ campaign. Andy Burnham, her predecessor as Shadow Home Secretary, played a key role in pushing the issue in Parliament.
Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose son James died in the disaster, was presented with a special award by the Prime Minister in recognition of the families’ persistent search for truth and justice.
The Prime Minister said she was “honoured” to give the award at the ceremony on Monday afternoon in London, adding: “Having lost their loved ones in the most appalling circumstances, they then spent 27 years searching for the truth with extraordinary dignity.
“This April, when the fresh inquests delivered their conclusions, they made clear to the whole nation what the Hillsborough families have known to be true from the beginning - that the fans were blameless.”
“Thanks to their resolve we now know the truth about what happened that day. This award is for all those who lost their lives at Hillsborough and their families who have shown immense courage and determination.”
More than 400 women attended the lunch and awards, where six were recognised for their “courage, resourcefulness, flair and for their selfless actions”.